How to Have Long Lasting Cut Roses
by Mary Beth Martin in The Memphis Rosarian, May 2007
One of the joys of having a rose garden is cutting the blooms to enjoy indoors. With a little advance planning you can extend the life of the cut roses and keep them looking fresh up to a week. Thereís more to bringing flowers indoors than just cutting a bloom and sticking it in a vase. For the longest lasting cut flowers, you must cut at the right time, condition and preserve the flower stems and store your arrangement in an appropriate location. Here are some guidelines for cutting and conditioning your roses.
Water before you cut. The key to long lasting roses is to have them well hydrated before you cut them. When possible, water your roses the day before you plan to cut stems for a bouquet. Cut early or late, but never at noon. Cut your roses before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. This is when flowers have the most water in their stems, which in turn makes the roses condition most effectively. Carry a bucket to the garden. Cleanliness is essential at every stage of cutting and conditioning roses. Scrub your bucket with a cleanser that contains bleach, such as Comet or Ajax. Rinse and add clean, cool water to the bucket when you are ready to harvest blooms. A 5-gallon plastic bucket with tall straight sides is good for supporting the long stems of roses. A bucket this size will hold about 15 stems without crowding. The height of your vase will determine what length stems you need. Always cut stems a few inches longer than you think you need to allow for mistakes or a broken stem. Carry the bucket with you to the garden and place your roses in it as you cut them. As soon as I cut a stem, I like to strip the lower leaves from it, then place it in the water. This keeps the roses from getting tangled in each other and makes it much easier to remove one rose at a time. If the sun is out when youíre cutting roses, set your bucket in the shade of the bush to keep the direct sun off the petals. Cut roses are easily damaged by direct sunlight.
Making the cut. Itís nice to have cut-and-hold pruners which grip the stem after it is cut, but a conventional bypass pruner works just fine, too. Conventional wisdom says itís a good idea to cut rose stems a half-inch above the second or third 5-leaflet down from the bloom, roughly a third to half way down the stem. At this point, the stem should be about the diameter of a pencil and strong enough to support the new stem that will emerge from the bud just below the cut. Cutting at the second
set of leaflets is not a strict rule. There are times when you need to cut lower on the stem in order to correct the shape of
the bush. Occasionally you may want to clip the stem at its base, especially if you want to thin out growth in center of the bush to improve air circulation.
Conditioning cut roses. Take your cut roses indoors. Fill a second clean bucket half full with a solution of tepid water and a cut flower preservative such as Chrysal or Floralife or a homemade version which has been added at the appropriate rate. If you havenít already removed the lower leaves, then remove any leaves that will be below the level of water in your vase. Remove the thorns. Re-cut the stem at a sharp angle to expose more cut surface to the water, thus allowing maximum uptake of water. Place the rose in the bucket with the preservation solution. There is some difference of opinion concerning whether or not rose stems should be re-cut under water. Some rosarians insist that the stems of cut roses should be re-cut under water to prevent an air bubble in the stem. Others maintain that re-cutting under water is unnecessary if you cut the stem and immediately place it in water. Iím not a botanist or physicist, but hereís how Iíve heard the air bubble issue explained: When a rose stem is left out of water, air can enter the xylem (the pores of the stem tissue.) As more air enters the stem, thereís less room for water and less tension in the xylem to draw water up to the bloom. An air bubble does not form in the stem and block the entry of water. Re-cutting under water is not going to remove all of the air that has already gotten into the stem. By this logic, if roses are left out of water for 30 minutes, then the damage has been done and recutting under water would not make any difference. Whether you re-cut under water or not is your choice. The important thing to remember is not to leave you roses out of water at all! Once you have stripped the stems and place the roses in the second bucket, then set the roses in a cool, dark place to soak for several hours or even over night.
Scrub that vase. Again, cleanliness is essential for long lasting cut flowers. Bacteria proliferates in the water in the vase, clogging the pores in the stems and slowing the uptake of water into the bloom. Your vases should be as clean as your teacups. Wash your vase in hot soapy water. Use a bottle brush or scouring pad to scrub away any dried on crud or stains. Rinse the vase in a solution of household bleach (Clorox) and water, then rinse again in plain water. Fill the vase about three-quarters full of water and add the appropriate amount of floral preservative. The preservative will help prevent the growth of bacteria. Change the water in the vase every day and add more preservative. Finally, display your roses in a cool room and never place them in a sunny spot.
Mary Beth Martin - The Memphis Rosarian, May 2007